Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Sabbath Is Not About Us -- Exodus 20:8-10a

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God;”
Have you ever lost a day?  It happens to me regularly.  Life is moving so fast that I miss what day it is.  Or if I have enjoyed a statutory holiday in the middle of the week, I wake up the next morning thinking it is Monday when it’s not.  I have a dear acquaintance of mine who will be 100 years later this month; we will celebrate it with her.  She is in a nursing home and often asks her visitors “What day is this?” for to her they are all the same.  Life is like that, we forget what day it is for various reasons.
But God says, “Remember the Sabbath day.”  If we want to walk with God and in obedience to His commandments, we must not, as long as we are mentally able, forget the Sabbath.
When I was younger, and hearing various ministers preach on this topic, the key thought that was driven home to me, was “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  We had to be careful not to do anything ‘unholy’ on the Sabbath.  As a rebellious youngster, I got fired from my summer job at a Christian family resort for actually swimming on the Sabbath.  Clearly that was a no-no back then.  But as society changed, with our ever-increasing ability to cram more things into our life (or so we thought), Christians too had to start doing many other things on the Sabbath.  We started washing our cars, mowing our lawns, and doing other garden or exterior housework.  (Up to that point, many were carrying on interior housework away from the neighbor’s eyes.)
This went on to the point where the general teaching on the main focus of this verse started to change.  Along with our ever-growing appetite for a “healthy body”, pastors started preaching about the importance of the Sabbath for our own physical well-being.  That is, our bodies needed the break (along with good nutrition, of course).  I remember hearing, “If God took a rest on the seventh day, then you surely need one.”  And many of us accepted that as Old Testament truth and ran, or should I say, ‘sat’ with that.
Many years later as I now study this portion of Scripture more carefully, I believe the emphasis that preachers put on this verse when I was a youngster was more correct.  There is nothing in this verse or the ones that follow that suggest that keeping the Sabbath is for the purpose of our physical (or even mental) rest.  Do not get me wrong; our bodies do need rest and a good rhythm in order to function best.  But that rest could come anytime, whenever it is needed, not just on the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is about God, not us.  Making it about us does not mean we’re “keeping the Sabbath” as it was intended.  Our Sabbath day must be “holy”.
God wants us to work for the purpose of our earthly sustenance for up to six days a week, but on the seventh day, He wants us to consider it totally His and we are to go out of our way to “keep it holy”.  That does not mean the other days we can participate in unholy things, but on this day, our focus should be on keeping it “holy”.
Now what does keeping something holy mean?  And more specifically, what does it mean in a 21st century society, in 2014 and beyond?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives us five definitions for the word “holy”.  They are:
  1. exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness
  2. divine holy — Psalms 99:9 (Authorized Version)>
  3. devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity holy temple> <holy prophets>
  4. having a divine quality <holy love>  and venerated as or as if sacred <holy scripture> holy relic>
  5. -- used as an intensive holy mess> holy terror when he drank — Thomas Wolfe> ; often used in combination as a mild oath <holy smoke>.

Definitions 1 and 2 above refer strictly to our God.  Definition 5 is a misuse of the word, maybe even an abuse of it.  But we would do well to heed definitions 3 and 4 (highlighted above).

As I read these definitions, we keep a day “holy” if we devote it and us entirely to our God or to the work of our God and we treat it as divine or sacred.  It is interesting that the world defines it in a way that uses the word “entirely”.  Maybe that is just to trip us Christians up, but I don’t think so.  Something cannot or should not be, part holy.  We either keep the Sabbath holy or we do not.  It is our choice.  So what does that mean for us today if we wish to obey God on this commandment?

First, let me state that here is not the place to argue about which day of the week we are to observe.  Just note that our verse only says it is the last day of seven.  Enough said on that now.  Now back to the main question of what it means for us.

It means that in all our activities on our Sabbath, we are to satisfy the relevant definitions above.  We are to have and exhibit a divine love in our actions, words, and thoughts, as if we are sacred because our God is Holy.  It also means we are devote the entire day to our God and to His work of service.  Church is in.  Family is in because God wants us to pour into our families.  Friendship and relationships are in because God wants us to cultivate those for His purposes.  But what we do at church; what we do with our families; and what we do with our friends, must have a divine or holy quality and purpose to it.

I can serve in church, worship in church, etc., but I cannot go there to gossip or show off my new clothes or automobiles or make everyone envious about the holiday I just had (something I should not do any day of the week).  I can spend time with my family building them up and developing our relationships, but I cannot partake in activities with them that do not have a divine quality to them – such as watching movies with questionable language or action or taking in a show that does not glorify God.  I can spend time with my friends, but not at a place of their choosing if that is a place that God is not being glorified.  This is His day.  Again, don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting we can go to inappropriate movies on the other six days or visit a strip club on any day but our Sabbath.  But our Sabbath is His Holy day.  We need to keep it in that manner.

So let me ask you and in the process, ask myself, “How are we doing with respect to this commandment?”  It’s your move, but remember, it’s about Him.

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